Once upon a time in Korea, rice was the symbol of wealth, survival, and ultimately family– and it was a very valuable resource indeed, as it sustained our people. But when it was time for any celebration, our people gathered this precious rice, pounded it into a flour, and steamed loaves of them in different methods and shapes and passed it all around the village. This is how DDUK became our people’s food that symbolizes sharing for prosperity, family and neighborly ties– the celebration of life.
Transitional ceremonies are the several levels of ceremonies that one goes through from birth to death. Each ceremony has its own ceremonial rituals and its rituals are usually accompanied by food- the main food being DDUK: rice cakes. DDuk was the primary food that was presented to the sky and ancestors, and because each transitional ceremony was an official ceremony of family, society, thus country, that tradition gave great impact to the tradition of dduk as well.
Sam-Chil-Il 삼칠일 < Three-Seven Day>
The day celebrating the child’s 21st day since birth is called Sam-Chil-Il (3 cycles of 7 days). On this day, the child sheds the infant wear of blankets and is dressed in real clothing to free the body. Family and friends are finally allowed to visit the mother and child, after the mother has had plenty of rest. For the celebratory food, white rice and seaweed soup with beef is prepared, and for the dduk, white sulgi dduk. The white sulgi made on this date has sacred meanings, but one thing sticks out in this tradition: the dduk is not shared and only eaten within the family, never leaving the house. This symbolizes that the mother and child remain in the protection of the Gods without mixing with the world.
Baek-Il 백일 <100th Day>
It is a party celebrating the baby’s 100th day since birth. The number 100 is connected to the concept of wholeness and maturity, and it is to celebrate this stage that the baby has reached the day of completeness. The dduk on this day is shared with many. It is said that dduk served on the 100th day is to be shared with 100 people for the baby to be completely healthy, have longevity, and receive great blessings. For this reason, it was tradition for the family who had received this dduk to, instead of returning an empty plate, include string or white rice (meaning longevity or fortune). The dduk most commonly eaten on this day are red-bean bells (수수팥떡), songpyun (송편) or honey dduk (꿀떡), white sulgi (백설기), and rainbow sulgi (무지개 떡). (more on dol <or baek il> dduk & meanings→ article)
DOL 돌 <1st year>
In Korea, the child’s 1st Birthday is known as DOL. On this day, the all- important milestone Doljabi (돌잡이) is conducted: various items are placed on the table or the floor (with a mat of course) in front of the child, and the child is allowed to choose an item from the spread that will provide the elders a glimpse into the child’s chosen career and future. (For more info: “Doljabi: A Classic Dol Tradition”) The DDuk eaten on this day is same as Baek Il (1o0th Day), and also shared with as many as possible. A must-eat for this day, like Baek Il, is red-bean bells to wary of all negative energy. It is customary to make sure the child eats red-bean bells for the first 10 years of their life for each birthday to ensure full health and good fortune.
Chek-Leh 책례 <Book Ceremony>
This tradition has long disappeared, but it was a ritual conducted every time a child finished a difficult book or a level of study in their schooling. This stage could now be applied for every year of a child’s school, or a difficult and important test. The dduk on this day, like Beak-Il or Dol, was songpyun or honey dduk, (dduk with a filling– symbolizing inner growth through education), and shared with the teacher and then family. Korea also has a tradition of gifting sticky-rice dduk to someone before they take an important test, wishing for them to ‘stick’ the test.
Hon-Leh 혼례 <Marriage Ceremony>
A marriage is a once in a life-time ceremony that bonds a man and a woman and husband and wife. In earlier times it was called a ‘6-ceremony ritual’ and consisted of 6-stages. The first dduk associated with this ceremony is a dduk made by the bride’s house to send in the groom’s family’s Eebaji Hahm (“Eebaji: Gifting of the In-Laws”) This boong-cheh-dduk 봉채떡, or commonly called bong-chi-dduk 봉치떡, is made with 3-parts sticky rice and 1-part red bean, and steamed in a shiroo in 2-layers. 7 jujubes are also placed in the middle. The sticky rice symbolizes the wishes for the couple’s love to be harmonious and sticky like sticky rice, and the red in red-beans are meant to wear off all negativity. The 7 jujubes represent 7 sons, and layering the dduk in 2 layers represents the couple. This day also includes various other dduk for the actual ceremony, and a grand table setting of dduk.
Other dduk eating days are: Hwegap (회갑) and Jehleh (재래)- which is after the death of the person. With this, a Korean’s life starts and ends with dduk.